The humble beaver has had a surprising amount of direct and indirect effects on human life throughout history. This semiaquatic rodent can do a surprising amount of jobs that can improve our lives for the better. As an ecosystem engineer, it has a particular impact on the environment around it, as it creates habitats that help not only themselves but other animals and humans.
There are two species of beaver—the North American beaver and the Eurasian beaver—and they live in Nothern America and Europe. However, historic persecution saw them hunted for their pelts as well as the castoreum that is secreted from their glands for medicine and perfume.
However, now that people understand how useful they are for the environment, in a time when we need to fight climate change, there are various rewilding efforts to bring them back to the areas where they were hunted to extinction.
10 Water Storage during Drought
By building dams across streams, which create a network of ponds and channels, beavers hold back large amounts of water across a wide area. This means that during heavy rain, these dams can help avoid flood events yet also allow for a controlled release of water, which can sustain rivers and wildlife during dry periods.
Humans have straightened out streams over the years, but beavers help to make them bendy again so that the flow of water slows, which is essential in fighting drought. Artificially straightened rivers and streams speedily deliver water into the ocean without the water providing benefits to the places that it visits along the way.
Dams can provide insurance against droughts by replenishing groundwater and preventing soil and nutrients from being washed away during flooding.
Beavers can also benefit agriculture by engineering new water sources, helping crops to grow, and aiding in food production for humans in times of drought.
9 Helping to Prevent Wildfires
Beaver habitats show promise in protecting against wildfires, as they have demonstrated higher fire resistance compared to areas without beavers. After a wildfire has occurred, scientists have found that the loss of vegetation density was three times smaller in areas with beavers than those without in the western USA.
While not everywhere can become beaver habitats, in less-populated areas, dams can contribute to local protection against wildfires as the water is spread over such a wide area. These wetlands can also help the recovery of nature by preserving the existing biodiversity that would be at risk of death by wildfires.
8 Nature-Built Air Conditioning
During intense heatwaves, humans use tools like air conditioning to keep cool. However, beavers have also demonstrated a unique ability to cope. They help other creatures survive by drenching landscapes with cold water, which cools the air, making forests and grasslands less susceptible to fire and drought.
Beaver dams are hydrological wonders that create ponds, widen rivers, and develop wetlands, providing aquatic habitats for various animals. These dams help cool water by deepening streams and forcing cold groundwater to the surface, benefiting temperature-sensitive species like salmon and trout.
In addition to water cooling, beaver habitats have a chilling effect on the air as the water evaporates. Studies show that beaver dams can lower stream temperatures by more than four degrees.
7 Improved Water Quality
Beavers are proving to be a significant boon to river water quality in the western United States, countering the damaging effects of climate-driven droughts. Hotter and drier weather means that water quality becomes degraded as it is filled with contaminants and an excess of nutrients, which then require major rainfall to wash them away.
However, beaver dams raise water levels upstream, which diverts water into riparian zones to act as filters. This removes the excess nutrients like nitrogen and any pollutants before water re-enters the main channel downstream.
The dams create steep drops in water levels, generating pressure gradients that push water into surrounding soils, which helps remove unwanted nitrogen from the water. They, therefore, play a positive role in mitigating the impact that climate change is having on water quality.
6 Carbon Capture
Beavers create dams that lead to the formation of wetlands and floodplains, which can sequester carbon and keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
Before European settlement, beavers were widespread in North America. There were estimated to be around 400 million in total, and these animals shaped the landscape as they saw fit. These meadows were storing significant amounts of carbon, which was released when they were abandoned as so many beavers were killed and their land used for human purposes instead.
Research conducted in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park found that intact beaver dams elevate water tables, which means that oxygen can’t get to the wood or other sediments, and it can take 600 years before any decomposition occurs. This aids carbon storage as the carbon isn’t released until the dead wood starts to rot. Abandoned beaver meadows, on the other hand, release carbon dioxide as water tables drop and soils dry out.
However, if all of the beaver meadows that were created there were still intact, they would be storing around 23% of the soil carbon in the landscape. This would amount to an estimated 2.7 million metric tons of organic carbon in total. If this was applied to all the historical beaver meadows in North America, the amount of carbon sequestration would be quite impressive.
5 Can Teach Us Skills
No matter how advanced our technology becomes, there will always be valuable lessons to glean from nature’s engineers, like the beaver. The way they build dams and manage water is so successful that humans try to emulate it in urban areas. The attributes of beaver dams epitomize the principles of the Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) design that people can use to support water management in towns and cities.
These dams are crafted to retain water upstream, which preserves it at its source, a pivotal aspect of quantity control. They decelerate the flow of water, which allows sediment to settle, thereby enhancing water purification and quality. Furthermore, beavers ingeniously create habitats for themselves by utilizing these dams as their homes and storage sites for harvested food.
4 A Biodiversity Boost
Research conducted by the University of Stirling in Scotland revealed that ponds constructed by beavers are significantly more biodiverse than other wetlands. They examined aquatic plants and beetles in 20 wetlands in central and southern Sweden, half of which were created by beavers and half that were not. They found a remarkable difference, with the beaver-influenced wetlands playing host to 33% more plant species and 26% more beetles.
The beaver-generated wetlands were more complex due to the beaver’s activities like tree cutting and plant grazing, resulting in a mosaic-like environment that is loved by many other species, both large and small.
The organisms that reap the benefits include mammals, amphibians, ducks, insects, and plants, and beavers do it all for free without the need for expensive conservation efforts. Beaver ponds also provide somewhere to bathe and drink for any species that pass by the meadows, as well as grazing livestock. (LINK 8)
3 Pollution Busters and Fish Whisperers
A University of Exeter study of the escaped beaver population in Devon in England found that they had a substantial impact on purifying the River Otter by filtering out contaminants like manure, slurry, and fertilizers that were released from farms.
This pollution reduction has been advantageous to fish in the area as these beaver wetlands contained 37% more fish compared to similar sections of the river. Remarkably, instances of trout leaping over dams were documented during periods of elevated river flow, so these structures didn’t stop them from completing their migrations.
2 An Economic Uptick
Further research at the River Otter in Devon during the beaver trial focussed on the village of Otterton and uncovered a business opportunity for the local community due to their presence. As various rewilding projects are found in the countryside, they can help build sustainable economies and travel as the money goes toward locals instead of large corporations who may invest in unsustainable businesses.
The existence of the beavers led to economic gains through increased visitor numbers to somewhere that wouldn’t usually have tourism. As the beavers are most active at dawn and dusk, travelers were more likely to stay over, which increased revenue even further than if it was just a location for a day trip. It was found that businesses that embraced the beaver and actively capitalized on its presence reaped the highest financial rewards.
1 Beavers Are Worth Millions!
Beavers do so much for us that we should consider paying them, as it has been calculated that an individual is worth £80,487.72 per year. This figure was based on their ability to reduce floods, increase water purity, and store water, among other factors. It is good news for communities that wouldn’t be able to afford large-scale human-built projects but can sustain a beaver population and reap the benefits for a much lower price.
This figure was calculated by the Earth Index, which was published in major financial publications in order to highlight the undervaluation of nature in the global economy. However, these numbers underestimate the true value of nature, which is that it is vital in order to sustain human life. Despite the significant worth of nature, the global political economy places a low value on it, leading to unsustainable practices, mass extinction, and climate change challenges.
Investigating the value of nature like this could lead to a shift in priorities, potentially creating jobs in sectors like alternative energy, sustainable agriculture, and urban redesign, ultimately creating a greener and healthier future for humanity in a time of crisis. In total, beavers are worth £437,500,000 or $632,117,784 each year.